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A Freedom and Opportunity Agenda for the Americas

A Freedom and Opportunity Agenda for the Americas

Roger F. Noriega, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
December 3, 2004


As prepared for delivery

I want to thank Miguel and Peter for the opportunity to be here today. It's always great to return to CSIS and see so many old friends.

I want to briefly review U.S. policy toward the Western Hemisphere, and where I see it headed in the coming months--with the caveat, of course, that we will soon have a new Secretary of State.

I am confident, however, that what I will outline today will likely continue to frame our policies. That's because the basic premises underlying U.S. policy in the region are based on President Bush's vision of generating economic growth through trade and entrepreneurship, and then spreading that economic opportunity and political power to people from all walks of life through effective democratic institutions.

There is consensus here and abroad on the essential requirements to build stable societies and prospering economies. The task ahead is to implement this strategy with urgency and energy so that our policies reward entrepreneurs, build a strong middle class and help the poor help themselves, so that our communities and our countries grow together in every sense of that expression.

This is not to imply that there are not serious challenges ahead. Of course, there are. But we have an ambitious strategy to address those challenges and press forward on a clear path to consolidating freedom and opportunity in the Americas.

When you look at the region today, one has to acknowledge a popular dissatisfaction with the insufficient progress being made under the free-market, democratic model. While this model has produced dramatic results in some countries, too many people are simply not reaping the benefits of open economies and political systems that they have a right to expect. Even in countries where this formula has reduced poverty, the gap between rich and poor remains a source of dissatisfaction.

I do not subscribe to the contention that this signifies a failure of democracy and the free market, however. What many in the Americas are questioning is the ability of their political and economic institutions to provide the tools that people need to improve their lives. This reflects a failure of institutions as they are--not as they should be.

So, our challenge is clear: to help the region's elected leaders make good on the promise that democracy and the free market will transform their peoples' lives for the better.

I believe anyone who has been closely following our work--especially through the Summit of the Americas process--knows the kinds of things we have been doing, and will continue to do, to achieve this goal.

Our basic strategy is two-fold: to help countries bridge the divide between citizens and their governments; and, to work for the empowerment of individuals.

Linking Citizens & Government In some countries today, too often it seems the interests of civil society and government are spinning in different orbits, with no connection between the two. This is what breeds the sort of cynicism and, depending on the situation, the apathy or societal tensions that plague some of our neighbors.

To help overcome this, we are helping link citizens to their governments and make governments work for them by promoting second-generation political reforms to ensure greater civic participation and more transparency, effectiveness, and accountability in regional governments.

We have been active in promoting the development of civil societies capable of enjoying their rights and reaching constructive, consensus-based solutions to disputes natural to any pluralistic society.

This year, among many other initiatives, we have sponsored a civil society capacity building project in Paraguay; a regional youth democracy conference in Ecuador; a training program for democratic leaders in Lima; a youth leadership campaign and indigenous outreach program in Bolivia; a women's leadership initiative in Caracas; and a series of regional conferences on Colombia's peace process.

To further close the gap between politicians and voters, we are advocating decentralizing political power and revenue collection, and we are working to help strengthen the capacity of local governments to manage local issues.

Most people will never meet national-level politicians and centralized bureaucrats. But they do interact with local politicians. Granting municipal governments real responsibility and revenue makes government more accountable, making it easier to tamp down corruption and gives people a greater sense of direct participation in the political system.

We are also working hard to help improve access to the political process on the part of long-marginalized elements of society, especially indigenous communities.

Unfortunately, there are irresponsible actors in the region who seek to manipulate the legitimate interests and aspirations of these communities for political ends. We need to respond with openness, outreach, and education.

Perhaps nothing feeds popular cynicism more than corruption. So, combating corruption is a prerequisite to restoring trust in government and accelerating development. It is also a simple matter of justice.

We are working with our Hemispheric partners to institutionalize transparency in government by promoting open procurement, advancing freedom of information legislation, and establishing ombudsman offices to shine the light on corruption.

We are also helping to foster impartial, professional, and apolitical judiciaries. Nothing mocks democracy more than a corrupt justice system.

Some countries in the region are making real progress in reforming their judiciaries by, for example, streamlining civil code procedures, introducing computerized case-tracking systems, staggering the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and naming judicial councils that oversee hiring, firing, and disciplining judicial employees. A number of countries are introducing more open and efficient adversarial judicial systems.

Independent, effective courts are not only the cornerstone of just societies, they are the foundation upon which modern, competitive economies are built.

Fighting Poverty The very essence of our policy in the region is extending political and economic power to the weakest and poorest among us. If that sounds revolutionary, it should come as no surprise, because the United States is a revolutionary country. It was 230 years ago, and it is today.

We believe that if the poorest and weakest among us have the tools to claim their fair share of political power and economic opportunity, this Hemisphere will be more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.

So, let's get back to basics--using language that even an intellectual can understand: Our policies must confront the triple threat of poverty, illiteracy, and insecurity.

We know that the poorest among us want no more than the opportunity to work for themselves and their families.

Those who lack education have every right to that basic tool for improving their lives and building a better world for themselves and for the rest of us.

And, those who live in fear of crime or exploitation have every right to demand from their government--if nothing else--the simple security from crime and injustice.

We believe the path to prosperity is built upon affording individuals the opportunity to pull their own weight and create personal wealth--to become stakeholders contributing to the greater good.

President Bush believes, in particular, that the key to creating jobs is breaking down trade barriers. Thus, we will press forward with a robust trade agenda to prime the pump of prosperity.

We will continue to promote free trade agreements, because they transform societies by allowing countries to market their comparative advantages and domestic resources and to attract investment from abroad.

These agreements also encourage good governance, because few will invest in places where corruption is rampant and the rule of law does not exist. Trade accords also advance sound workers' rights and better environmental standards.

And we will continue to explore new initiatives to help people liberate themselves from poverty by expanding opportunities for U.S. private sector partnerships in the region and by working with the multilateral financial institutions to increase grants, rather than loans, to developing countries that are adopting sound priorities.

We also will continue to work to reduce the cost of sending remittances from the United States to the region through increased competition and better transparency in the market. In addition, we will encourage the channeling of remittances to more productive uses, such as starting businesses and building homes.

And, we will promote the development of a common Western Hemisphere energy policy to help our neighbors make the most of precious reserves to generate development and growth.

We all know that education is a prerequisite to success in an ever more competitive world. We will encourage governments to liberate citizens from substandard educational systems. We can do this by measuring the effectiveness of our schools in the first place and, then, committing to more classrooms and better teachers.

At another level, we encourage technology transfer and educational exchanges by bolstering mutually beneficial ties between colleges and universities throughout the Americas.

Summit of the Americas Process I mentioned the Summit of the Americas Process previously because it is essential to working our agenda for the Americas.

Earlier this year at the Special Summit of the Americas in Monterrey, we encouraged countries to reinvest the benefits they derive from trade back into their people: into education, health, the environment--into improving the competitiveness of their labor force to enable them to participate in the global economy.

In turn, the hemisphere's leaders committed themselves to practical steps to boost economic growth and distribute economic opportunity to all. They agreed to strengthen and enforce property rights, lower barriers to remittances, remove obstacles to starting small businesses, and increase access to capital for small business owners.

Incidentally, it was with these same goals in mind that President Bush unveiled his historic program to help reward sound policies and prevent crises: the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which was funded by Congress at $1 billion for fiscal year 2004 and $1.5 billion for fiscal year 2005. The President's goal is that the MCC be funded at $5 billion by 2006.

To be eligible for this new money, nations must govern justly and honestly, uphold the rule of law, fight corruption, and invest in their people. And they must unleash the energy and creativity necessary for economic growth by opening up their markets, removing barriers to entrepreneurship, and reducing excessive bureaucracy and regulation.

Three countries from our own hemisphere were among the first 16 to be declared eligible for MCA assistance: Bolivia, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Two additional countries were recently selected as "MCA threshold countries" for FY05--Guyana and Paraguay. These countries will receive assistance aimed at helping them achieve full eligibility.

By placing a premium on good governance and effective social investment, the MCA approach should help countries attract investment, compete for trade opportunities, and maximize the benefits of economic assistance funds.

We will continue to maintain an active multilateral and Summit agenda in the coming year. In June, the United States will host the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale, the first time in 30 years that we have played host to the GA.

That Assembly will advance our agenda of delivering the benefits of democracy to ordinary citizens by making governments more effective, transparent, and accountable.

In November 2005, Argentina will host the Fourth Summit of the Americas, where the focus will be on creating sustainable jobs through policies that promote more competitive economies, attract investment, and foster private sector-led growth--through small- and medium-enterprises in particular.

We will again push for agreement on actions to simplify and expand access to credit, so we can empower individuals and provide them the opportunity to share in the benefits of growth on the basis of their own efforts.

Beyond that, we will continue to promote multilateralism that works and seek to revitalize the Inter-American system. We will study increasing our budgetary contribution to the OAS and strengthening implementation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

Finally, on personal security. Anyone who has seen the public opinion polls coming out of the region knows that at the top of most lists of ordinary citizens' concerns is personal security.

Street crime and gangs pose serious, serious threats to public safety. Criminal gangs in Central America are the conveyor belts of illegal narcotics.

To confront these transnational threats, we will redouble our efforts to professionalize and modernize civilian police forces in the region and to dismantle illegal smuggling and criminal networks.

Tough Decisions Ladies and gentlemen, I realize that this represents an extremely ambitious agenda. But in order to defeat poverty and remain competitive in a globalized world, the hemisphere has no alternative to this reform agenda--decentralization, deregulation, strengthening property rights, reforming labor laws, and investing in basic social services.

We will be generous in our support, but let us also recognize that no amount of external aid will substitute for governments making the tough decisions for themselves. To their immense credit, most of the leaders of the region recognize these obligations and are working hard to fulfill them. And as they do so, they have found in the Bush Administration a creative partner, reinforcing the forces of reform.

Regional Snapshot Before I conclude, I want to briefly touch on some additional topics of interest that perhaps we can discuss further in the question-and-answer period.

We will continue to help the people of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, Central America, and others that are affected by the illicit drug trade to defend their sovereignty and defeat criminal gangs.

As many of you are aware, President Bush stopped in Cartagena on his way back from the APEC Summit in Chile to reaffirm our close support for President Uribe in his extraordinary effort to win his country back from the narco-terrorists.

We will continue to find common ground with Brazil and the Southern Cone, bringing our markets and our societies closer through practical cooperation and mutual respect.

We remain committed to helping the Haitian people attain the good government that they have always deserved but rarely had. We are working with the international community to improve security, lay the groundwork for November 2005 elections, and support needed economic reforms. Two days ago, Secretary Powell and I were in Port-au-Prince to advance those goals and demonstrate our solidarity.

Our relations with the broader Caribbean are strong but must be even closer. We are committed to continued engagement with the region through our ongoing Third Border Initiative. Following this year's hurricanes, we are providing some $117 million in disaster and reconstruction assistance to the region.

I also had the opportunity earlier this week to accompany President Bush on his first official visit to Canada, where he reaffirmed our partnership with the Canadian government and agreed to deepen and broaden our economic relationship with North America as a whole.

In Venezuela, we can cooperate on mutually beneficial endeavors such as energy, counternarcotics, and counterterrorism. But I want to be clear that any effort to establish a cooperative relationship with the Venezuelan government will not come at the cost of our commitments to democratic principles or regional stability.

The Reality of Our Times It is the inescapable reality of our times that for countries to be making just steady progress in strengthening democratic institutions and building prosperous economies is simply not enough; they have to be making rapid, broad-based progress or risk being left behind in the global competition for capital and trade.

This is a consensus that was not invented here in Washington; it is the product of a pragmatic reform agenda that has taken root all around the world--one that has added billions of new protagonists in the international economy.

Our objectives are the same: a hemisphere that rests on a solid foundation of democracy, prosperity, and security--where dictators, traffickers, and terrorists cannot thrive. All of us must recognize that we cannot achieve our goals unless we work together.

In the months ahead, we will redouble our efforts to help governments accelerate a reform agenda. Where we can help, we will act, creatively and vigorously. Because only in this way will it be possible to meet and overcome the challenges that continue to confront us in the Americas.

[End]


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